“Let us all be as vulgar as legally possible,” declared junior Ian Brown at the beginning of the theatre department’s adaption of “The Mystery of Edwin Drood.” And the cast delivered.
Rupert Holmes’ murder-mystery musical “The Mystery of Edwin Drood” is based on the unfinished novel of the same name by Charles Dickens. The musical opened on Broadway in November 1985 and closed in December 1987, with 608 total performances.
The Hillsdale College Tower Players gave five performances of “The Mystery of Edwin Drood” in Markel Auditorium Feb. 27 to March 3.
The play’s key feature is audience participation: Holmes leaves audience members to vote between alternative endings each night, instead of concluding where Dickens’ work leaves off.
Upon entering the auditorium, the viewer could sense a unique ambiance: instead of hunkering down backstage rehearsing lines, the actors mingled in-character and interacted with the audience as they found their seats.
The musical is a play within a play: the characters are actors in a 19th century Victorian theatre company which stages Dickens’ murder mystery. Actors switch between the two stories according to the commentary of character William Cartwright, chairman of the theatre company, played by Brown.
The role of Drood himself was played by a female actress in the play — “England’s finest male impersonator” — sophomore and theatre major Abigail Bohrer. Drood is murdered but his body is missing, and each character launches into his own investigation to solve the mystery of Drood’s death. Each actor displayed impressive range, switching multiple times between the Dickensian characters and the entirely different set of actors.
Junior Nicolas Uram gave a remarkable performance as Drood’s uncle John Jasper, a dark individual with psychotic tendencies and a suspect in Drood’s murder, while sophomore John Szczotka tackled the emotional swings of character Neville Landless, an impetuous young man who competes with Drood for the affections of Rosa Bud, played by sophomore Julia Salloum.
The second act of “Edwin Drood” contains numerous twists. Rev. Mr. Crisparkle, a slick minister played by freshman Jon Biscaro, manages to stay under the radar and non-suspect throughout the first act before emerging as a pivotal character in the plot to kill Drood.
Audience members voted twice during the second act of the play, first to determine the role of Detective Dick Datchery after he enters the story, and to decide who murdered Drood, and again and the end to determine whether or not Drood is actually dead. At one point prior to the voting, the actress playing Drood storms offstage, and does not return until after the final round, further complicating the question.
Despite the varying outcomes, one left the theater feeling content and assured they would still be satisfied had another character been assigned the blame of murder.
“It was very well done,” sophomore Braden Van Dyke said after the Wednesday night showing. “It struck a good balance between comedy and suspense throughout the play.”
Chairman and Professor of Theatre and Dance James Brandon described the play as having a blue-collar, lower class Victorian theme with a “metatheatrical environment.”
“You’re walking into a place where people are cognisant of who they are,” Brandon said.
In the end, what stood out most about “Edwin Drood” was the unflappable chemistry of the cast. Whether it was Szczotka and Bohrer’s back-and-forth over the dinner table as Neville Landless and Edwin Drood, or the conflict between Uram and Salloum as Jasper and Rosa Bud, the audience took in a kind of performance that is only possible with a cast that fully embraces the unpredictability of the production.